Currently, the United Kingdom has “separate but equal” laws for couples who want to get married. Straight couples get a marriage license. Meanwhile, gay couples get civil partnerships, a legal union introduced in 2005, which gives gay couples the same legal protection, adoption and inheritance rights as marriage. Many LGBT people in the UK are unhappy that they’re denied the right to marriage, but you rarely see a straight couple fighting for the rights offered to gay couples.
Tom Freeman and Katherine Doyle are ready to take their relationship to the next level — they want a civil partnership. But earlier this week, their application to form a civil partnership was rejected, because civil partnerships are only available to same-sex couples. The couple plans to go to court and fight for their right to a civil partnership.
Their situation may leave many baffled. Why are they doing this? But their interesting situation can easily be seen as a show of support for LGBT people and a statement about the inequalities that gay couples face.
“We don’t like the patriarchal traditions of marriage and don’t want to be called husband and wife. Tom and I see each other as equal partners,” Doyle said. “That’s why civil partnerships appeal to us. They are more egalitarian and better reflect our relationship.”
Gay activists are backing the couple, hoping that civil partnerships will be open to all, regardless of sexual orientation. The fight draws attention to the fact that gay couples and straight couples in the UK do not have equal marriage rights. Denying gay couples the right to get legally married is unequal, even if they are granted the same legal benefits as marriage.
Freeman and Doyle will be fighting alongside other gay and straight couples. They’re planning on filing a joint action in the courts to overturn both the ban on heterosexual civil partnerships and gay civil marriages.
Giving the same legal rights to straight and gay couples isn’t enough; the fact that they have different names sets them apart. Both marriage and civil partnerships should be open to gay and straight couples. Considering that Britain’s human rights law disallows discrimination based on sexual orientation, Freeman and Doyle may have a strong case.
While gay couples in the UK may soon get equal marriage rights, not just access to civil partnerships, in the U.S., many gay couples can’t even get civil unions. All couples should have equal rights — whether it’s the right to get a civil partnership or the right to get married.
Photo credit: Brett Lock